Every time I hear another laud personal development guru talk about motivation, I roll my eyes. Look up the most popular motivational speeches. Most of them are designed to give you a quick bump just like cocaine until it wears off and you are back to where you started.
Take Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example. Arnold is a top actor, former governor and the person who popularized bodybuilding. Arnold was born in a tiny village in Austria during the starvation times and laid bricks to buy supplements for his goal. Arnold and his life story are incredibly inspiring, no question about it.
My problem with folks like Arnold is that being motivated does not imply that you understand what actually makes you motivated. Take this one for example:
The take aways from the video:
- do the imposible
- ignore the naysayer
- work like hell
All of those things require motivation, but they don’t give you motivation to start. In fact, try telling a depressed person to go get more criticism and see how that turns out.
Most motivation speakers have nooooo idea and they can do more harm than good.
“Maybe I can’t be like Arnold. I just don’t have it in me.” Welcome a new limiting belief.
Even next time, you might muster some short term inspiration again. But coming back to that same unmotivated place will be harder than before. The environment will be pointing at YOU. You followed quality advice and failed again. Maybe it’s you who are flawed.
Ra-ra speeches are cheap.
Some may think genetics is the core motivation factor. Others say it’s about finding your life purpose and doing what you love.
Here is the big question: how do I even find what I love, if I am demotivated to do anything? What if I know what I love, but can’t quite get started? Does this mean that I’ve identified the wrong life purpose? Now I am a demotivated human without purpose? And well, sorry, I can’t change my genetics.
Autonomy, mastery, purpose equation? Good luck. Having those does not imply motivation. I know plenty of unmotivated people who have all the freedom in the world, are good at what they do and know the impact they want to make. Short- and medium-term motivation may require something more.
What’s left then?
The Motivation Bank Theory
Motivation is your ability to go through obstacles.
Think about motivation as a bank account. You earn for every accomplishment.
You pay for every hard decision as well as some disempowering behaviors.
Imagine your account balance, X, is how much hardship you can take on at a point of time.
The desired action such as going to the gym costs Y.
If X > Y, you can go ahead to do what it is that you want to do. Shortly after, you get paid back your initial investment with interest. Your account balance grows.
If, however, Y > X, then the task will seem too big to take on. You can’t quite muster enough will power. And beating yourself up for being broke will further decrease your account balance.
It’s impossible to be motivated when you are on the coach.
If you are not motivated right now, waiting is not going to do a single good thing for you. Motivation won’t come out of nowhere. The more you wait, the more you beat yourself up, which makes things even harder.
Get in motion. Do something that you can handle. Get a small win. If you can’t write an article, write a page. If you can’t write a page, write a paragraph. Write a sentence. Something. Just start. Get a taste of blood. Get that small increase in your account balance. It’s very addictive.
Positive actions compound. That’s why army generals (McRaven) tell you to make your bed in the morning, and clinical psychologists (Jordan Peterson) tell you to clean up your room.
Small Actions >> Wins >> Bigger Actions >> More Wins
Motivation breads motivation. Success breads success. That’s why people like Arnold are so motivated all the time. They’ve kicked the mechanism in motion. The more they win in life, the more motivated they are to win again. These people appear to be unstoppable, and so can you.
I don’t know about you, but the days when I hit that snooze button, I have the worst mornings ever. My excuse for hitting the snooze button is sound - “I am tired and I want to have an amazing day. Taking a bit more time to rest is a wise decision.” Only that I don’t know a single person who can rest well being woken up every 8 minutes for the next two hours.
So let’s say 2h of snoozing go into the garbage compiler of life. Yes, maybe I didn’t get a second more rest after all, but why do I feel even worse?
Well, because I didn’t just waste 2h of my life, I invested those hours into judging myself, consciously or subconsciously. My friend Jonathan shared a phrase with me “snoozers are for losers.” Trust me, that’s one of those self-defeating thoughts that plays over and over in my head for two hours - “you are a loser!”
Everyone interprets the world around them differently. Those who always think negatively, rob their own motivation bank.
Take, for example, the most common long term goal: running a marathon.
After the honeymoon with visualizing crossing the finish line, you actually have to go out there and put in your first run. You probably have barely run before, so doing a couple miles feels like working at a labor camp. It sucks!
Because it was as difficult as it was, you adjust your Y (the action cost). It’s actually way harder than you’d originally predicted.
Now the pay back time comes for running two miles. There are two mindsets that determine the amount that gets added to your motivation bank.
1) Negative (pays you less than you invested):
“I am not sure if I can actually handle 26 miles, if I struggled as much as I did with only 5% of that.”
2) Positive (pays you with interest):
“I just ran 2 fucking miles! Good for me. I went ahead and did it! It was tough, but I am a fighter.”
Since the run was tough, going for the second run will require more effort (Y). Whether or not you have motivation to go for run #2 is determined by the mindset you’ve elected, so will your whole training and your life.
To live an empowering hyper motivated life, you must silence your inner critic that robs you every day. Getting the right mindset is the most powerful thing you can do to build up your long-term motivation.
Celebrate Your Wins
Taking on really big challenges usually implies two things: delayed pay time and a massive upfront investment.
How often do you celebrate your wins? Once a day? Once a week? How often do you feel proud of yourself?
Most of us celebrate only after we finish the marathon. The real winner, however, is not you who ran the marathon, but the hundreds of you beforehand who trained for it.
Allow yourself to celebrate small wins. They will pay your motivation bank more frequently. They will give you the sense of progress. They will make you happier.
Motivation is in Your Body
Stop generalizing everything! Body and mind are not two separate things. Emotions are, in fact, made out of physical chemicals floating through your body.
Motivation is not just in your head. It is in your body too!
You can be fat and motivated. You can eat pizza and do big things. But that taxes your motivation bank significantly. And who likes paying taxes?
When I overeat, I simply don’t make the same decisions. When I don’t exercise, I have a harder time getting out of bed. The odds are stacked against me.
Not only do I make desired actions much harder (Y 📈), but also I judge myself more often for feeling shitty, which robs me further. Stupidity squared. There is absolutely zero reason not to eat healthy, sleep well or exercise.
People who don’t take care of their bodies pay fat taxes in the tax free world. It’s a terrible financial decision for motivation banking.
I encourage you to do a two-week experiment, when you eat, sleep and exercise well. Then compare your motivation levels now and then.
Your Membership Card
Some people pay motivation taxes, others get fat discounts (Y 🔻).
Everything that you do habitually eventually becomes easier. Your mind starts interpreting habitual activities as something normal, the autopilot mode. Your body adjusts to match your habits. The task no longer requires as much motivation to complete.
After a few disciplined weeks, I started waking up at 6am, meditating and writing every single day. It’s easier than ever now. AND I no longer do I need to pay almost anything from my motivation bank to execute on those activities.
If you feel unmotivated, the conventional motivation advice will probably do more harm than good. Observe the motivation banking theory in your life. How hard is it to take a desired action at different points in your life?
Get in motion! Waiting to be motivated will yield nothing. Take the smallest actions to get small wins. Winning will get you motivated to do bigger things. Success breads success.
Embrace an empowering mindset. Celebrate every small win. Take care of your body. Build habits around desired behaviors.
It’s not what you do when you inspired that counts the most. That’s stuff is easy. It’s what you do when you are demotivated, when things get challenging, that determines your long term success.